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Experts generally disappointed in second draft of Indiana's new standards

Alan Petersime

The reviews of Indiana’s draft plan for new academic standards to replace Common Core are in and, overall, they are not complimentary.

The Indiana Department of Education and Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation today released the final draft of the standards, which have been in the works in earnest since February. State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has said she hopes the Indiana State Board of Education will approve them on April 28. The board has a July 1 deadline under a new state law to establish new standards to replace Common Core, which lawmakers voided last month.

Along with the final draft standards, the department released six reviews of the second draft of the standards, three each for English and math, that came from outside experts around the country. The most positive reviews came from Achieve, Inc., the Washington, D.C.-based education consulting company that helped the National Governors Association with the process that developed Common Core standards.

But other reviewers were harsh, calling the math standards “half baked” and in need of “major revisions,” while terming the English standards an “utter disappointment” and “not significantly different” from Common Core.

State officials said the critiques, received in March, were considered and the advice incorporated into the final draft standards released today. But last week, state board member Andrea Neal raised concerns that the experts’ criticism was far reaching and that the state’s release of their reports less than a week before the Education Roundtable is scheduled to consider the final draft standards wasn’t enough time for a thorough review of what they had to say.

Indiana, once an early champion of Common Core, has backtracked over the past two years from the standards that 45 states have agreed to follow, including the Hoosier state in 2010. Common Core was designed with the goal of assuring all students graduate high school ready for college or careers, but critics in Indiana said they feared the shared standards cede too much control over the states’ education systems to the federal government. Creation of Common Core was led by the state governors but the standards were later endorsed and promoted by the U.S. Department of Education.

As a state-ordered review of Common Core was underway earlier this year, lawmakers introduced and ultimately approved a bill to instead withdraw Indiana from participation in Common Core. That spurred state education officials to quickly begin the process of setting new standards to replace them.

“The process began last fall with DOE’s technical and advisory teams reviewing the previous standards, and has included more than 150 Hoosier educators, higher education experts and members of the business community,” a statement accompanying the release of the final draft states. “The state received more than 2,000 public comments and conducted three public hearings, in addition to receiving feedback from 10 national evaluators whose reports were shared with Hoosier panel members.”

Here are some excerpts from the reviewers’ reports:

Joanne Eresh, on behalf of Achieve, Inc., commented on the draft English standards:

“Although the draft 2014 English/language arts standards mirror the format and progression of the Common Core State Standards and draw the majority of their draft 2014 standards verbatim from that document, the state appears to have clearly examined each statement they have included in this draft, keeping, changing, adding and revising standards as they try to capture the clearest and highest expectations for the students of Indiana.”

Kaye Forgione, on behalf of Achieve, Inc., commented on draft math standards:

“The draft 2014 mathematics standards provide the coherence and focus that are characteristic of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics, and are generally specific enough to convey the level of performance expected of students at each grade level and in each course.”

James Milgram, a math professor at Stanford University, commented on the draft math standards:

“The draft standards that I reviewed represent an improvement over Indiana’s current standards, the Common Core State Standards, in that the draft covers most, but far from all, of the fundamental K to 12 mathematics that students have to learn. The level of Indiana’s current standards is far too low to prepare students for success in non-remedial mathematics courses at any of Indiana’s public four year colleges and universities. So the fact that the new draft contains standards for the rest of the high school math curriculum, including trigonometry, probability, pre-calculus and calculus, is very welcome indeed. Overall, I would judge that the new draft has “good bones,” but it requires major revisions in every grade to make it first rate (and as a Hoosier, born and raised in Indiana, I would really like to see Indiana have truly international level math standards).”

Terrence O. Moore, a professor at Hillsdale College and resident of Angola, Ind., commented on the draft English standards:

“The Indiana draft standards are an utter disappointment. They were clearly “written” in a rush, and that rush is being passed on to the reviewers who were initially given a whole ten days to review the standards. Nonetheless, it is not clear that the committee brought together to rewrite the standards could have done much better had months been given to what has become known as “the process.” The reasons are contained in the fatal flaws of these standards as they now stand:

–First, the new draft standards are simply the Common Core: in many cases simply cut and pasted, in others slightly rewritten.

–Second, the problem with the Common Core and all other state standards in the country is that they are written in an impenetrable eduspeak that parents and citizens cannot understand.

–Third, the K to 5 standards, whose purpose in the early grades should be to teach the fundamentals of reading and spelling, are clearly written with either an anti-phonics bias or a lack of understanding of how an explicit phonics program actually works.

–Fourth, another mischief to be found in these standards is the questionable dictating of teaching practices in the name of standards.

–Fifth, all of the above deficiencies probably flow from a lack of clarity concerning what an academic standard should be.”

Sandra Stotsky, a professor emerita at the University of Arkansas who helped Indiana write standards in 2009 that were never adopted, was asked to comment on the draft English standards. Stotsky, a withering critic of Common Core, agreed to comment on the draft standards only if they did not look like Common Core standards:

“The standards for grades 6 to 12 in the draft sent to me on March 14, 2014 for review were not significantly different from the standards for grades 6-12 in the public comment draft that had been posted by the Indiana Department of Education in February 2014. Those standards received a great deal of public criticism for being mostly Common Core’s standards. But (the second draft) was not much different. According to the department’s own analysis, 93 percent of the standards in grades 6 to 12 in (the second draft) were identical to, or slightly edited versions of, Common Core’s standards in grades 6 to 12. The differences between (the original draft) and (the second draft) lay mainly in K to 5, even though K to 5 in (the second draft) was, according to the department’s own analysis, also heavily repetitious of Common Core’s standards. On March 17, I wrote to Gov. Pence indicating that I would not review (the second draft).”

Hung‐Hsi Wu, a math professor at the University of California at Berkeley, commented on the draft math standards:

“The standards of (second draft) in K to 8 are predominantly those of the (Common Core), with a few amendments made and with a few nonessential standards added. It would appear that the amendments are not necessarily for the better. The 9 to 12 standards of (second draft) are, of course, different from those in (Common Core) because the former is grade-specific and the latter is not. Unfortunately, the 9 to 12 standards of (second draft) are only half-baked and do not appear to have been carefully thought through. They are far from ready for prime time.”

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